“If Alberta increased its tax rates by $11 billion our province would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.”
This was only one of the notable figures presented by Kevin Taft at the launch of his new book, Follow the Money, held last night at the Garneau Theatre in Edmonton. The outgoing MLA and former Liberal Party leader released his latest book along with a short film directed by award-winning director Tom Radford.
The book and the film focus on what Alberta’s reach-for-the-bottom taxation rate really means for our province and the potential that is lost when our government does not even collect its own resource revenue targets.
Follow the Money breaks down the spending patterns of the provincial government over the past 30 years by looking beyond the basic numbers and by delving into demographics that tell a deeper story about spending and revenue. Essentially, while corporate profits have skyrocketed in Alberta, the share of wealth that is invested into our public services has shrunk dramatically.
When you actually look at the numbers, Alberta does not come anywhere close to having a spending problem, as some politicians on the political right would have us believe. Alberta has a revenue problem.
Perhaps one of the advantages of being an outgoing MLA is that Dr. Taft is not restricted by a party-line (nor do I have the impression that he would care to listen to a party-line). The ideas proposed in Dr. Taft’s new book clash with the new “business friendly” direction that Tory MLA-turned-Liberal leader Raj Sherman is trying to steer his party, which could make for some interesting drama in the upcoming Spring session of the Assembly.
Politics aside, Dr. Taft is doing Albertans a great service by putting these numbers on the table and opening the debate on Alberta’s resource revenue and taxation policy.
Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft is continuing his court battle over the administration of Alberta’s 2008 provincial election by launching a charter challenge.
As reported by the Edmonton Journal‘s Sheila Pratt, Dr. Taft’s lawyer Grant Dunlop has argued the government has a legal obligation to “create effective machinery” to make it as easy as possible for people to vote, including accurate voters lists. In the lead up to the 2008 election, the government delayed appointing returning officers which also delayed the enumeration process, leaving the official voters list inaccurate and incomplete.
An estimated 250,000 Albertans needed to be sworn-in at their polling stations due to incomplete lists, which led to large line-ups and many people not voting. The 2008 election saw the lowest voter turnout in Alberta’s history (at an estimated 39%).
Looking west, Albertans might take some inspiration for electoral changes that could improve the ability of our official electoral structure to engage with voters. British Columbia’s recently appointed Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer, a former Albertan and retired University of Calgary academic, submitted a list of four recommendations (pdf) that could help modernize the election system and make voting more accessible in that province:
1)Voter-centric election model: Modernizing language in the Elections Act that restricts duties to specific elections officials, allowing for better flexibility when helping voters participate in the elections process.
2)Efficient and effective voter registration: Legislators consider providing greater flexibility to the Chief Electoral Officer to determine the best process for conducting enumerations to ensure the most efficient and cost-effective methodologies are used to ensure a high quality voters list.
3)Encouraging youth participation: Improving the accessibility of registration opportunities for youth by engaging these future voters before they reach voting age. Permitting early registration at age 16 would allow Elections BC to work with schools and the driver licensing program to ensure maximum exposure to the registration process for young voters. Voting age will remain at age 18.
4)Trialling new voting technologies: Providing greater flexibility to the Chief Electoral Officer to introduce, on a pilot basis, new voting technologies. An August 2011 discussion paper on Internet voting showed that there is a growing interest amongst voters in the possibility of implementing online voting or other new technologies.
Canadian Wheat Board elections Allen Oberg of Forrestburg, Alberta, Stewart Wells of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Kyle Korneychuk of Pelly, Saskatchewan, John Sandborn of Benito, Manitoba, and Henry Vos of Fairview, Alberta were elected or re-elected to the Canadian Wheat Board. All Board Members with the exception of Mr. Vos are supporters of a single desk seller. Just over 41 per cent of the eligible 28,481 eligible farmers returned their mail-in ballots.
New Alberta Liberal Executive
The Alberta Liberals elected a new President at their recent annual general meeting. Erick Ambtman was acclaimed to the position as were VP Policy Debbie Cavaliere and Secretary Nancy Cavanaugh. Two other board positions appear to be vacant as VP Communications Jody MacPherson resigned for personal reasons at the AGM and the VP Fundraising position is listed as vacant on the party website.
Mar blocked Maryland global warming Bill
Alberta’s representative in Washington DC Gary Marhelped stop a piece of global warming legislation in the State of Maryland in 2009. According to The Tyee, Mr. Mar travelled to Maryland to speak against the Oil Sands Responsibility Act introduced by Representative Roger Manno. The Bill would have prohibited State agencies from purchasing high-carbon fuel, including fuel derived from Alberta’s oil sands.
Ted Morton running against Danielle Smith?
Probably not, but that has not stopped the speculation that the PCs would take advantage of changes in the electoral boundaries to put their top fiscal mallardTed Morton on the ballot against Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.
Social Credit AGM
The elusive Social Credit Party held its annual general meeting on November 20, 2010 in in Innisfail where its members reaffirmed the leadership of Len Skowronski and heard what I am sure was a fascinating a speech from Paul Kennett, President and CEO of the Alberta Credit Union Deposit Corporation. The party also elected a new board of directors, consisting of President Gordon Barrett, Vice-Presidents Helge Nome and Garnet Medicraft, Area Directors Myrna Kissick, Gordon Musgrove, Tom Stad, Raj Sinha, Charles Relland, and Bob Whyte. Both Mr. Relland and Mr. Whyte are former members of the Alberta Party, which they both left after the party’s renewal attracted in an influx of new members over the past year.
Election earlier than 2012?
Liberal leader David Swann and Wildrose Alliance leader Ms. Smith are predicting an election in early 2011. Although I have heard similar rumours as they have, I still believe that as long as Premier Ed Stelmach is the leader of his party the next election will be in March 2012, as he has consistently said.
Around 100 progressive activists from across Alberta gathered in Edmonton this weekend for the Reboot Alberta 3.0 conference. This is the third Reboot Alberta conference that has been held since fall 2009. I attended the first Reboot Alberta conference in Red Deer, but missed this weekend’s gathering in favour of enjoying a weekend in the mountains. Along with networking and idea sharing opportunities, I am told that representatives of the Liberal Party, the new Alberta Party, and the Democratic Renewal Project were given an opportunity to present their vision for a more progressive Alberta.
Liberal leader David Swann asked for the support of Reboot participants and provided his party’s letter to other parties as evidence of his desire for cross-partisan cooperation. Although I believe that Dr. Swann’s plea was sincere, his party is not completely in step with their leader.
There are some interesting growth prospects for the new Alberta Party. As a coalition of former Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, and Independents from rural, urban, and suburban Alberta, it has a diverse core of politically engaged supporters to grow from. This party is also lucky to be starting with a blank slate, which will start to be filled at their policy convention this weekend in Red Deer. The Alberta Party will also choose an interim leader this weekend and begin a leadership contest process soon after that.
Critics have been quick to jump all over the Alberta Party for its focus on policy construction and organization building through the Big Listens, but unlike the already established parties, the tone and process are critically important in the early stages of political organizing. Its growth over the next six to twelve months will likely determine whether this party has the potential to reach to survive into the next election.
Blogger’s Update: I have been informed that the very talented Troy Wason also attended Reboot 3.0 and spoke to the participants as an active rank and file member of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. I was glad to learn that he was there representing his party. I could not think of a better ambassador to this kind of event than Mr. Wason.
I know a lot of people who get frustrated at the idea of vote splitting and the idea that there needs to be less political parties competing in this province. The challenge for opposition parties is not the number of them, but their effectiveness. As Peter Lougheed proved in the 1967 and 1971 elections, a crowded field of opposition parties can clear out pretty quickly when you work hard to provide Albertans with a competent choice on their ballots.
Where are the NDP?
In Red Deer this weekend, members of Alberta’s New Democratic Party gathered for their annual convention, branded as “Seize the Day.” The convention delegates heard from leader Brian Mason about his hope to take advantage of vote-splitting between the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance in the next election. A conservative vote split could help the NDP in a handful of constituencies in central Edmonton, but without a significant voter-base elsewhere, significant gains will be harder to achieve.
I have to admit it, while they constantly provide some of the most vocal opposition to the PCs on the Assembly floor, I have never fully understood the Alberta NDP as a party.
The “seize the day” theme reminded me of when I covered the 2009 NDP convention for SEE Magazine. While there I asked a number of delegates why they were in Edmonton and not in Calgary helping their candidate in the final weekend of the by-election in Calgary-Glenmore. The response I heard most went along the lines of “I’m sure that there are some people helping out. Maybe we’ll get a win this time.”
The by-election was won by Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman in a close race with Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts. At the end of the night, Mr. Hinman was elected by 278 votes over Dr. Roberts. NDP candidate Eric Carpendale barely registered on the electoral radar with 1.3% of the vote. The results of this by-election (and the selection of Danielle Smith as their leader soon afterward) helped rocket the Wildrose Alliance from the conservative fringe to Official Opposition-in-waiting.
No one expected the NDP to win or even be a contender in that by-election, but to this day I still cannot understand what a party that has not elected an MLA outside of Edmonton since 1989 felt it had to lose by taking an opportunity to try and grow its support in Calgary. Instead of being passive observers, those three hundred conference delegates in Edmonton could have made a big difference for their candidate in that last weekend. Given how close the results were, if they had put in an effort maybe the NDP could have helped shape a different result for that by-election.
Just think how different Alberta politics could be today.